An Informative Guide On Tick Paralysis

NEVS Emergency Vet Hospital is available 365 days of the year, including public holidays.

Sydney’s North Shore and Northern Beaches are a tick haven, particularly during spring and summer.

Tick poisoning requires urgent vet attention, so if you think that your pet is exhibiting symptoms, don’t hesitate to bring them to Northside Emergency Veterinary Service.


In a life-threatening emergency such as this one, you want to choose a vet for your pet with years of experience treating thousands of cases of tick poisoning each year.

Call us today in the case of an emergency!





Tick poisoning is a serious and potentially fatal condition requiring urgent veterinary attention.


Ticks attach to dogs and cats (and people), secreting a paralysing toxin as they feed. Left untreated, treatement almost always leads to respiratory or heart failure.

This Paralysis is caused by a specific tick, lxodes holocyclus, which is found along Australia’s east coast and is especially prevalent around bushland like Sydney’s North Shore.

This grey-greenish coloured tick can be as small as a pinhead and as large as a thumbnail. The bigger the tick, the longer it has been on your pet, ingesting the blood and becoming engorged. The neurotoxins in the saliva that it secretes into your pet’s bloodstream cause the symptoms.

Tick Paralysis Life Cycle

The Australian paralysis tick is a three-host tick. There are 4 distinct stages of the life cycle of the Australian Paralysis Tick – egg, larva, nymph, adult. The life cycle takes approximately 1 year to complete (minimum 135-437 days)

  • Eggs

Female adult ticks lay up to 3000 eggs in litter, of which x amount survive to complete the life cycle. They are laid in leaf litter from MONTH-MONTH. They will remain as eggs for 40-60 days before hatching to become Larvae.

Tick Life cycle

  • Larvae

Larvae have 6 legs. Upon hatching, they immediately begin to search for a host so they can have a blood meal. They feed for 4-6 days, before falling off the host and undergoing a moult to become nymphs. We see this stage of the life cycle from MONTH-MONTH.

  • Nymphs

Nymphs have 8 legs. Upon moulting they will have a second blood meal on a second host. We see this stage of the life cycle from March to August. Nymphs can cause paralysis if a large number is present on a single host.

  • Adults

Upon moulting, adult paralysis ticks will find a host. Female ticks require a host for a blood meal, whereby a male tick uses the host to find a female tick in order to mate and feed from her. Males pierce the cuticle with their mouth parts and feed on the haemolymph of the female. The female ticks then fall off and lay eggs to complete the life cycle.

How Are Ticks Transmitted

Bandicoots, possums and echidnas are the most common hosts which transmit paralysis ticks. Due to continuous exposure to the toxin, they have built up resistance over time and are usually immune to its effects.

Paralysis Tick

What Does A Paralysis Tick Look Like

There are at least 73 species of ticks in Australia and adult paralysis ticks can be difficult to identify. Body colour can be affected by feeding so is not reliable to use to accurately identify different species of ticks. Adult females have exceptionally long mouthparts, different coloured first and last set of legs (darker) and no coloured markings on the dorsal shield. Male ticks have much shorter mouth parts.

Methods To Find A Tick On Your Pet

The most reliable ways to locate a tick is to run your fingers through the coat with enough pressure to feel for any lumps or abnormalities. Although most ticks are found around the head and neck (78%), they can be found anywhere on your pet so it is important to perform a thorough examination. Check in the beard, ears, wound the eyes, between toes and around the anal area. 10% of patients will have two or more ticks, so its important to keep searching even if you find one.



Stay calm! This is the most important thing you can do for your pet, as affected animals cope poorly with stress or overheating.


Contact us immediately and arrange to bring your pet in. Do not wait until the next morning. Remove any visible ticks with a hook or tweezers (and search for more ticks if one is discovered) and try to keep your pet relaxed, quiet and cool.

IMPORTANT: Do not offer your pet food or water. The toxins mean your pet cannot protect their airway when they swallow and the food or water may run straight into their lungs.

It is important to seek emergency care even if you remove the offending tick(s). The toxin typically continues to poison your dog or cat and timely treatment is still required.



The paralysis tick injects a toxin into its host as it feeds. This is concerning as these are most active in late spring and early summer.


Tick paralysis or poisoning is a very serious and potentially fatal condition that requires urgent veterinary attention. It’s crucial for dog and cat owners to be able to identify the symptoms so they can seek emergency help for their pet.

The best way of preventing paralysis is to avoid areas with ticks. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done, especially in New South Wales where the condition is one of the most common pet emergencies. Sydney’s North Shore and Northern Beaches can claim one of Australia’s highest incidences of the responsible paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus.

Cats ordinarily show more resistance to this poison than dogs, but if affected the signs are similar. Increased body temperature due to exercise or weather will exacerbate symptoms.

Clinical signs are usually seen within 3-5 days of attachment. Progression of these signs are rapid of 24 to 48 hours. If left to run its course, this paralysis goes through three stages as seen in the table below.

Even when you find and remove it, your pet is not out of the woods. They can still develop symptoms several days after removing a tick.

When you remove a tick, keep it in a sealed container in case your pet becomes sick. Monitor your pet for the next few days (even weeks) for signs of symptoms and if in doubt, take them to your local vet.

Tick paralysis and poisoning symptoms typically include:

  • Heavy breathing (panting, noisy breathing and possibly grunting)
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Heavy salivation
  • Wobbly legs (especially the back legs – dogs tend to sit but not stand)
  • Collapse

If you suspect your pet has tick poisoning, act immediately by calling our emergency veterinary clinic on (02) 9452 2933.

Early Signs Later Signs Worsening Signs
Dilated pupils Wobbliness in the back legs Animals become unable to stand
Weakness in the back legs. Walking along then sitting down suddenly is common Breathing becomes exaggerated and difficult
A change or loss of voice, for example the meow or bark becomes softer or changes pitch Panting, progressing to loud breathing and even grunting noises Frequent gagging, grunting or coughing
Vomiting, especially when it happens several times a day and froth is present Dogs may experience a moist cough and breathing signs (common in King Charles spaniels, schnauzers and other short nosed dogs Gums become cold and blue-tinged as breathing gets difficult

Cause Of Tick Paralysis In Pets

Tick paralysis is caused a toxin injected with saliva by the female tick, which is injected into the blood of the animal. The toxin directly affects the nervous system causing lower motor neuron paralysis.



Diagnosis depends on side effects and after finding an installed tick, more often than not on the scalp.


Veterinary clinics use a 4 -stage classification for Neuromuscular and Respiratory signs in a dog developed by Professor Rick Atwell. This allows the person assessing the animal to determine a score that helps monitor their progress or deteriorate.

Neuromuscular Score

Stage 1 Difficulty making mouth noises, weakness and incoordination but can still stand and walk. Best assessed walking up stairs.
Stage 2 Can stand but unable to walk
Stage 3 Cannot stand but can right itself
Stage 4 Cannot right itself

Respiratory Score

A Normal – no difficulty breathing
B Mild breathing difficulty
C Cannot stand but can right itself, has restrictive breathing, experiences gagging and retching
D Cannot right itself, difficult or laboured breathing, grunting, bluish discolouration of skin and mucous membranes

This classification method allows assessment to be consistent even when multiple people are working on an animal. Animals presenting in stage 3C-4D have a guarded prognosis.



Treatment for paralysis involves a stay in hospital of usually a few days and the administration of an anti-serum.


The sooner an affected pet is brought in for treatment, the more effective that treatment is. If your cat or dog displays any symptoms described in this article, they may have tick poisoning.

Don’t delay if in doubt and bring them into Northside Emergency Veterinary Services for quick, professional treatment. Call us now on (02) 9452 2933 or contact us online for more information.

During the warmer months, our emergency vet hospital treats up to 100 pets per week for tick poisoning and up to 40 cases over a single weekend. The weather patterns of the Northern Suburbs of Sydney are ideal for ticks and vigilance is required to prevent tick poisoning.

In the event of an emergency, the qualified and dedicated staff at NEVS will administer expert paralysis treatment at our after-hours vet clinic in Sydney.

While each case is individual, our veterinarians will typically:

  • Administer a sedative, especially for cats
  • Perform multiple tick searches
  • Administer an antiserum designed to neutralise the toxin
  • Monitor the pet closely during the stay
  • Monitor bladder function, often helping with manual expression of the bladder
  • Provide additional treatments if needed, like intravenous fluids (if severely dehydrated), sedation (to keep your pet calm), oxygen, and checks for potential pneumonia

All animals are individuals and react differently to the stresses of toxin. Young, old and weaker pets are more vulnerable. We will likely have to keep your pet for 2 to 3 days in the hospital.

Recovery Of Tick Paralysis In Pets

Recovery is a slow process and takes on average between two and nine days. Affected animals require supportive care including oxygen, IV fluids, antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, bladder expression and lubrication of the eyes.



This entirely depends on the kind of person you are. If you want to be left to yourself, you need to be outfitted and geared with everything, including basic maintenance, if your trips have long stretches across uninhabited places.


In order to prevent this painful and debilitating illness in your cat or dog, here are a few tips for prevention:

  • Search your pet daily for the presence of ticks, especially in the summer months in Sydney. Make sure to remove their collar while checking, too.
  • Ask your vet about drugs and sprays that prevent attachment and poisoning. Your vet can tailor suitable prevention for your pet based on its breed, size, lifestyle and age.

For more information on preventing and treating tick paralysis in your pet, call the Northside Emergency Veterinary Services team on (02) 9452 2933 or contact us online.



Preventative measures must be taken to ensure that your pet doesn’t get tick poisoning again.

After a couple of days in our animal hospital, your pet typically goes home with instructions for limited stress and exercise. They should be kept calm, cool and confined for a further 2 to 3 weeks. Small frequent meals and fluids are better than one large meal a day. Make sure you check that your pet is urinating freely, not just ‘cocking his leg’.



Treating many thousands of emergencies every year, our 24-hour veterinary clinic is known for its world’s best practice for tick paralysis treatment. With decades of experience, we are responsible for significant advancements in the treatment of tick paralysis, especially in the area of ventilation.